In 2014 we successfully completed a well restoration of a 200 year old well in Costessey Norwich. Our client is one of the owners of Woodfordes Brewery and is well aware that one of the most important ingredients in beer making and one which is most often overlooked is water. He was extremely keen to put back into working order his 200 year old well both for its history and preservation. It was a very deep well which was filled with a large volume of debris including bicycles, an old oven, tree stumps, clothing, etc. and had obviously been used as a method of disposing of old unwanted items.
For many years he had been looking for a company that would clean it out, but without success due to the depth of the well. We were recommended to him and are pleased to report that we successfully carried out this project. It was quite a challenge combined with the depth and type of debris we encountered.
Our client was so impressed that he produced a report with a step by step progress of works. We have pasted a copy below and hope you will enjoy reading this.
THE HISTORY OF THE WELL IN WINDMILL LANE
c1780 to 2014
“Costessey – a look into the past” written by Ernest Gage in 1991 includes the following:
'Eastwood Mill' in Windmill Lane, was re-built in 1817/1818 on the foundations of an earlier mill. A gateway in the lane led to a well which provided water for all residents living near the windmill.
From an early drawing reproduced in the book, the gateway in the lane appears to have been located immediately next to the windmill, (See drawing, right) but today, the well is located in the grounds of ‘Wensum View’, a detached house at the bottom of Windmill Lane. The exact date of the excavation of the well is not known but it seems highly likely that it was built in the second half of the 18th century. The well is exceptionally deep at 112’ and it is thought that it was excavated by hand by two or three men, and that it would have involved many months of hard and dangerous work, with the soil and chalk being removed a bucket at a time. The well diameter was four foot (4’) and the sides were bricked down to a depth of about 45’. The excavation continued down for a further 60+ feet, and the sides of the well below the bricks being solid chalk, with occasional lumps of flint. The top of the original brickwork on one side of the well is worn away, and this is thought to have been caused by the constant wearing by the bucket rope during the excavation and over many years that the well was in use.
The well was the main source of water for all the local residents for over 150 years until a water main was installed in Windmill Lane in 1952. (Front cover: photo of Joseph ‘Albert’ Bumphrey, beside the well in 1948) While in use, the water will have been brought to the surface by a bucket on a rope or by use of a hand-pump, and the remains of an old bucket and chain with a safety clip, and a turning handle, were subsequently recovered from the bottom of the well in 2014.
As far as can be established, the history of the ownership of the well, is as follows:
Late 1700’s - the original post windmill and site was owned by Robert Fox.
Early 1800’s – the windmill site was bought by Edmund Martin, who re-built the mill, built ‘Windmill Cottage’, and subsequently ‘Windmill Cottage (2)’, later known as ‘Wensum View’.
1861 – the site was bought by F Banham.
1865 – the site was bought by John Gotts.
1867 – the site was bought by Costessey Estate.
1902 – the windmill had become dangerous and was demolished.
1918 – Costessey Estate sold ‘Windmill Cottage (2)’ to Mr Kirby, who subsequently sold it to Mr Coleman.
1950’s – ‘Windmill Cottage (2)’ was bought by Mr and Mrs Lesley Nunn, who renamed it ‘Wensum View’.
1971 – ‘Wensum View’ was bought by Dr. & Mrs Glynn Brisley, who extended the kitchen and cloakroom, built a double garage and added a large new wing to the east of the original building.
2003 – ‘Wensum View’ was bought by Michael and Janet Betts, and they carried out large-scale renovation of the building and gardens.
At some stage in the history of the well a concrete cap was added to seal the top, and this is most likely to have been in the early 1950’s, soon after the mains water supply was installed. At some stage a small hole was broken into the concrete cap, and this was temporarily sealed with a steel plate. (See photo, right) The well had therefore remained virtually unnoticed in a corner of the garden for over 60 years.
In 2011, Mike Betts asked Mr Terry Beddow from TW Page & Sons Ltd to look at the well and he lowered an inspection lamp on a double extension lead through the hole in the concrete cap. It was possible to see a considerable amount of rubbish in the well, and he also established that it appeared to be at least 80’ deep.
In early 2013 it was decided to make the well safe by arranging for the concrete cap to be removed, and new brick-work built to approximately one metre high with a metal grid and trap-door installed. This work was carried out by Chris Webster of Buxton, who carefully broke-up and removed the concrete cap, and constructed a temporary timber top for the well so that he could work safely at the well-head. (Photo of Chris Webster building new brickwork)
In May 2013, Mike Betts’ son Duncan lowered a time–lapse camera down the well to take photographs of the sides of the well and the rubbish at the bottom. These pictures revealed that the brick lining of the well went down to about 45’, and a substantial amount of scrap metal appeared to be lodged across the well at a depth of about 80’, with water just about visible some distance below. (See photo left) The pictures provided the inspiration to try and remove the scrap metal, and various options were considered. The possibility of a volunteer going down the well to try and remove the rubbish was a real option, but at the time, and without the necessary experience this was felt to be too hazardous. The possibility of lowering a powerful magnet or a grab was first considered to be a viable option. In October, scaffolding was installed above the well by Roger Cutting of ‘Wherry Scaffolding’, and much time was spent on the internet, trying to locate a suitable magnet or grab. Both these options were eventually ruled out, and the need for professional help was then considered. The scaffolding was eventually removed.
A telephone conversation between Mike Betts and Rory Dalzell at Eastern Counties Pumps in Ipswich in October/November 2013 increased the enthusiasm to bring the well back to life. Rory explained how the well would have been built over 200 years ago without the luxury of modern mechanical aids, without electricity, and at extreme risk to life and limb of the well diggers. Because this well was so old, unusually deep, and in what appeared to be very good condition, Rory was keen to help Mike to bring the well back into use, and it was agreed to go ahead with the work.
The team from Eastern Counties Pumps – consisting of Rory Dalzell, Gary, Bleachy, and Oliver - started work on the well on Thursday 28th November 2013 , having spent much of the previous day preparing their equipment, including both an electric and manual back-up winch. Some of the equipment including ropes, cables and a lighting festoon had to be lengthened, as the well is the deepest that they had worked on for many years. The first job of the team, after unloading an impressive collection of equipment from their van, was to install a steel tripod assembly directly over the head of the well, and at the apex of the tripod, pulleys were installed for the winches and the bucket rope. (See photo left) The tripod was stabilised with cross beams, an electric winch was bolted onto one side of the tripod, and a manual winch was also added. A low-voltage festoon of lights was lowered down one side of the well, and the entire depth of the well was clearly illuminated for the first time. A gas monitor was then lowered down the well to check for any sign of dangerous gasses, and to confirm a good supply of oxygen at the working depth. The first of what was to become regular measurements was taken, to establish the distance from the surface down to the plug of rubbish, and Rory Dalzell donned his waterproof suit, wellies, hard-hat and safety harness. Rory was then safely clipped to both winch cables, seated himself into a small steel framed chair, and was lifted over the well-head (See photo right). He was then slowly lowered down the well, inspecting the condition of the brick-work, taking photographs, and giving a running commentary as he went.
Rory was very impressed with the quality of the original brick-work, and soon identified small ledges where candles would have been placed when the well was being excavated. Most of the brickwork contained mortar, and at about 45’ from the surface the bricks came to an end (See photo right).
From there downwards the walls of the well were hard chalk with large flints occasionally clearly visible. Rory explained how the original well builders would have added the bricks at the surface, one layer at a time, and the digger at the bottom of the well would have undermined the bottom layer of bricks, literally allowing the entire circular column of bricks to drop down a few inches at a time.
Rory was slowly winched down to just above the plug of metal rubbish at about 80’ from the surface, where he took more photos and investigated the best way to commence the removal process. He started by tying some of the smaller pieces of metal to a rope lowered from the surface, and these were hauled up to the surface, while Rory, suspended in his harness, took cover beneath the seat of his chair. Later, a variety of metal items appeared at the surface with regular frequency, being hauled up manually by two men co-ordinating their hands on the rope in a smooth and regular rhythm.
Friday 29th November, and the same procedure continued with Rory being lowered down the well and buckets of scrap metal being hauled to the surface throughout the morning. The largest piece of metal was a corrugated metal drum, and Rory found it necessary to cut this into relatively small pieces before they could be hauled to the surface (See photo left). Rory cut the drum with an angle grinder, while the team at the surface operated a giant extraction fan to remove the smoke and fumes (See photo left).
At around 1400hrs there was a dramatic moment when the team at the head of the well were alarmed by a sudden and unexpected crashing noise from below. Peering down into the well they could see Rory safely suspended in his harness, but the remaining plug of rubbish had become dislodged and had crashed down into the water some 25’ below! Rory calmly asked the team to lower him slowly down so that he could inspect the condition of the newly exposed chalk walls, which had been scoured by the falling metal, and new photographs were taken with a camera that was lowered to him in a bucket.
The team continued following the same procedure for a third day with an eventful array of metal pieces arriving at the surface. These items included some sheets of corrugated metal in various states of rust/deterioration (later it was established that this had once formed the roof over the well – see cover photo), some substantial pieces of an old bedstead, the metal frame of a large chair or sofa, the remains of two bicycles – one was a BSA – including pieces of the frames, wheels and pedals, a hefty barrel hoop, a cast-iron stove that had broken into many pieces, and the front panel from a wall-mounted cooking stove. There was a humorous moment when Rory located a mobile-phone that had accidentally been dropped down the well by Mr Beddow some two years previously, and it was very obvious that it would never work again!
On days four and five (9th and 10th December) Rory was now struggling with some new challenges as he started to dig out the rubbish below the scrap metal, working in the confined space with a special short-handled spade. Bottles, a decomposed man’s leather shoe and also a child’s shoe, two hefty lumps of wood, and a very substantial tree stump (See photo below) were hauled to the surface, together with dozens of bucket-loads of mud and slime. The team at the surface were pulling-up these bucket-loads constantly throughout the days, and because of the great depth of the well, it was an extremely slow and energy sapping process. Another moment of laughter erupted when a so called ‘titanium’ metal wrench was recovered, accidentally dropped by Roger Cutting when he was erecting his scaffolding in October. The project on the well started to arouse quite a lot of interest from both neighbours and friends, with everyone in awe of how deep the well was, and the fact that Rory was working at such a great depth. It was even joked about the possibility of making the well a tourist attraction!!
A few very interesting items also started to emerge which gave some idea of the history of the well, including a steel handle that had probably been used to wind the buckets up and down, a 6’ length of chain with a spring clip on the end – that would have enabled quick release of the bucket, and the remains of two metal buckets. Throughout this time, Rory found himself standing in water, the depth of which was gradually starting to increase, and it eventually became necessary to install a large pump to keep the water level to a manageable depth. By the end of the fifth day the depth of the well was now about 107’, and water was seeping in through the sides of the well from newly exposed fractures in the chalk, making it necessary to keep pumping the water out at a similar rate.
Although considerably over-budget, it was agreed that it would be a huge disappointment for everyone concerned if the job was not finished, and after a break for Christmas, work resumed on the well on Thursday 9th January 2014. On this sixth day, Rory was determined to remove the last of the black silty-debris, and spent a very long day working down the well as the side walls started to narrow, and more signs of chalk were starting to emerge, and less black mud and sludge. Rory continued digging until well after sunset, by which time the buckets of sludge had now progressively become a lighter grey as more chalk at the original bottom of the well was being exposed. The digging stopped at 1630 hours, and the depth to the bottom of the well was measured at almost 112’. Rory then organised his team to dose the well-water with chlorine, and this was left overnight in an attempt to kill most if not all of the bacteria that would have formed over the 60+ years that the well had laid dormant.
Friday 10th January and the last big day of the reinstatement project. Gary, Bleachy and Oliver arrived to install a stainless-steel submersible pump (See photo right) that was carefully fitted to the end of a long blue plastic water pipe. A nylon rope and an electricity cable were then also fixed to the pump, and they were both taped at intervals to the 120’ pipe. The whole assembly was carefully lowered down one side of the well (See photo below), the blue pipe was cut to length, a Hydrostat (to make the pump start and stop on demand) attached to the top end, and this was then connected to a brass tap that was fitted to the outside wall of the well.
An electrical control box was installed and the whole assembly attached to the metal grid at the well head. The pump was tested, and the team then set about dismantling the winches, scaffolding tripod, and removing all their equipment that had served them so well. Rory and his team of young men had done an amazing job, and they are probably the only company in the UK that were able to carry out this restoration.
Over the following days and weeks the well was repeatedly pumped out and measurements taken to determine the depth of the water. The water level gradually began to rise as fractures in the chalk at the bottom of the well were now free to allow the water in the aquifer – an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock - to flow in more freely, and the water depth eventually stabilised at 8’6”. After pumping it was possible to see the water flowing into the sides of the bottom of the well and it regularly fully replenished within a period of less than 12 hours.
An underground electricity cable for the pump was eventually installed between the house and the well, and one of the last jobs was to dispose of all the scrap metal and rubbish that had been removed from the well.
Test weighing’s of the rusty scrap metal revealed a total weight of around 0.8tonne. (See photo left) This, plus a few barrow loads of brick rubble, over 60 x 70Kg sacks of spoil, and the heavy lumps of wood, made up a total weight of around 6 tonnes.
Who would ever have thought that this weight of rubbish would have to be removed by hand in order to bring the well back into use? A truly amazing achievement!
After being built over two hundred years previously, and laid dormant for over sixty years, the Windmill Lane Well in Old Costessey is back in use, and will hopefully be appreciated by many more generations to come!
The view from below!!!
Michael Betts; March 2014